Peppermint is the flavor of the season, no doubt about it. Remember my peppermint candy cookies? So very festive… These macarons dance to the same beat, a bright red color, the delicate flavor of mint perfuming the white chocolate, and some green and white sprinkles to boot. They scream Christmas, and New Year celebrations. All macarons I’ve made so far used a French meringue. This was my first batch going for the – slightly more finicky – Italian meringue. I’ve been meaning to re-visit it for a long time, actually. Had one epic failure in the past attempting a recipe from Pierre Hermé, which traumatized me enough to keep Italian meringue at a safe distance. But finally, the light in the end of the macaron tunnel.

(inspired by several sources)

for the shells:
150g almond flour (I used fine ground from Bob Mill’s)
150g powdered sugar
110g egg whites, divided (55g + 55g)
red food gel color (I used Americolor)
pinch of salt
150g granulated sugar
40 mL water  (a little over 2 +1/2 tablespoons)

for the filling:
200g white chocolate (I used Lindt)
68g heavy whipping cream
1 to 2 tsp peppermint crunch (to taste)

for decoration:
green and white sprinkles (I used nonpareils)

Prepare white chocolate ganache filling. Place chocolate cut in small pieces in a large Pyrex measuring cup. Heat the cream to almost boiling and pour over the chocolate. Let it sit for a couple of minutes, then gently stir. When totally dissolved, add the peppermint crunch, tasting as you go.  Reserve, cooling at room temperature for a couple of hours or sticking in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Make the shells. Heat the oven to 300 F. Line two baking sheets with Silpat or parchment paper, and prepare a pastry bag with a plain tip with 1/2 inch opening, or slightly smaller.

Grind together the powdered sugar and almond powder, using a food processor, to obtain a fine powder. Sift through a sieve into large bowl. Mix the first portion (55g) egg whites with red food color, then add it to the sieved mixture of almond and sugar. It will form a paste, a bit thick. Try to incorporate the color homogeneously, keep in mind it will be lighter when you add the meringue to it, so make sure you have a very nice red tone.

Make the Italian meringue. Take a deep breath first so you are relaxed (very important). Place the other 55g egg whites and pinch of salt into the bowl of a Kitchen Aid type mixer.  Set aside while you prepare the sugar syrup. In a small saucepan combine granulated sugar with water and place on medium heat. Using a candy thermometer measure syrup temperature. When it reaches 230 F start whipping the egg whites. When the syrup reaches 244 F pour it over the whipped egg whites while mixing continuously. Continue beating until the bowl has cooled slightly, and glossy stiff peaks have formed (see my composite photo).

Add the whipped whites over the almonds mixture and using a rubber or silicone spatula gently fold in until combined and smooth. Make sure to “paint” the mixture on the walls of the bowl so that you get a smooth, lava-like consistency. Transfer the mixture to the piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch (1 cm) plain tip. Pipe the batter to make macarons the size you like. Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons and to remove air bubbles. Add sprinkles on top, if using. Let them sit at room temperature until a skin forms, about 30 minutes.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. They are ready when the top doesn’t move freely when you hold them and twist gently. Let cool slightly before removing from baking sheet. Marry two by two of similar size, add the filling and place in the fridge overnight. Serve them at room temperature next day.  They freeze well too.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: It all started with an impulse buy. A bottle of peppermint crunch that I found at Marshall’s. That store has amazing gems waiting for a loving kitchen. I had no idea what to do with it, but decided that once in the comfort of our home, I would find a way to make it shine. I thought about sprinkling some on top of the shells before the skin formed, and actually ran a test on a few. The crunch kind of melted in the oven and it didn’t look very good. But adding it to white chocolate ganache? That worked very very well. I more or less eye-balled it, and tried a tiny bit to see if the texture and flavor were the way I wanted. I definitely did not want to have macarons tasting like toothpaste! So if you make it, either with white or dark chocolate ganache, taste as you go and stop when you hit the jackpot.

The amount I used did not even make a dent in the huge bottle… see the problem I have now? Find other uses for my beloved peppermint crunch… There are much more serious problems in life, I’ll tackle this one with a smile. And a bite of macaron, because….

A final comment: French or Italian meringue for macarons? I think the French does a perfect job with a lot less hassle. However, if you live in a very humid climate, the added stability of the Italian meringue might be better for you. At any rate, I feel that mastering the technique of the Italian meringue will come in handy in plenty of recipes. So I’m happy I gave it a try.

Enjoy the holiday season, and grab a pin, because sharing is caring!

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Beware. These are addictive. They seem quite innocent, sitting there with their unpretentious looks, but once you grab a few, you’ll be back for more. Perhaps more than you thought you would. Most recipes call for way too much sugar, I used just enough to give a hint of sweetness. They are more about spice. Not too much, though. Honestly, I think they are close to perfection, but feel free to change the proportion of spices, add different ones, and if that’s what rocks your boat, add more sugar. Just make sure to include the egg whites, they offer a natural “glue” for the spice mixture to adhere to the nuts, and a very delicate texture after baking. These keep well at room temperature, so they could turn into excellent gifts for the holidays inside a nice plastic bag with a cute bow. If you are into that sort of thing.

(adapted from several sources)

3 cups nuts of your choice (I used walnuts, cashews, and almonds)
1 Tablespoon water
1 egg white
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon hot curry

Heat oven to 250 F. Lightly coat a baking sheet with oil spray.

Combine all spices in a small bowl. Reserve.

In a large bowl, whisk egg white with water until frothy, season with the teaspoon of salt and mix well. Add the nuts to the bowl, and combine everything well, mixing gently but thoroughly.  Try to coat the nuts evenly with the egg white.

Add the sugary and spice mixture. Spread over the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 45 to 60 minutes, moving it around every 15 minutes or so, until fragrant and starting to get golden brown.

Remove from oven, let it cool completely, and break the pieces to serve.  I like to transfer it to another baking sheet covered with paper towels so that it cools a bit faster and any excess fat is absorbed by the paper.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I made two batches of these nuts over the past few weeks. Once in a regular oven, once in the crock pot. Yes, you read that right, in the crock pot. The advantage is simply saving space in the regular oven, which was at a premium over Thanksgiving. So I opted to bake them in the slow-cooker, and there they sat, low and slow. You need to watch them a bit carefully after 45 minutes, because the sugar might start to stick at the bottom and get too dark. Just move them around and it will be fine. If using the crock pot, cook them on high for one hour, reduce to low and cook for another 60 to 90 minutes although they might be ready sooner, depending on the power of your gadget.  Once they are ready, spread them on a baking sheet and let them cool completely. That is it. Nice and easy.  I am inclined to say I preferred the texture when they cooked in the crock pot, but both methods ended up very similar.

During the holidays, meals tend towards heavy and rich, so I rather skip appetizers like a cheese platter or goodies that involve bread and crackers. These nuts are a good option. A little serving of olives next to them and you are all set. They are so tasty that I notice some guests nibbling on them after dessert on Thanksgiving dinner…  If that’s not a great endorsement, I don’t know what would be…

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Panettone is a classic bread from Italy, very popular during Christmas festivities. I dare to say that it is almost equally popular in Brazil. Brazilians for the most part need to have the end-of-the-year panettone fix, as if mandatory.  Growing up, I would not touch it, picky eater that I was. Crystallized, dried fruit? Me? No, not happening. At some point I opened my horizons a little and would go for a nibble on a small piece. But I was never a big fan, to me it seemed too dry, with a bit of an unpleasant texture. Toasted, with a decent spread of butter, wast the only way to enjoy it. Phil had never tried any until we found ourselves in São Paulo many Decembers ago. He fell deeply in love with it. Over the years he’s also tried other kinds, like those studded with chocolate chips, called “Chocottone” in Brazil. His favorite? The classic version, from Bauducco. Raisins and dried fruits. Not sure what happened this year, but I got an intense desire to bake the version of his dreams. I went the extra mile and got all the necessary toys and gadgets for it. It paid off, big time!


(adapted from The Fresh Loaf)

6 oz (1 cup) all-purpose flour
8 oz (1 cup) milk
1/4 t instant yeast (regular yeast is fine)

Fruit Soaker:
1 cups diced dried fruit (cherries, cranberries, apricots, dates)
1/2 cup candied orange peel
2 cups golden raisins
1/2 cup rum + 1/2 cup water

Final Dough:
1 pound (3 cups) all-purpose flour (plus 1 tablespoon to 1/2 cup more as necessary)
soaking liquid for fruits
2 eggs
2 oz (1/3 cup) sugar
1/2 t Fiori di Sicilia extract
1 t salt
1 T instant yeast (I used this one which is osmo-tolerant)
1 stick butter (1/2 cup), softened, cut in several pieces
soaked, drained fruits, orange peel
grated zest of one orange

The night before, mix up the preferment with instant yeast. Cover and leave at room temperature overnight.

The next morning, mix the dried fruits with the rum and water and let soak for 30 minutes.

Make the final dough: drain the fruit, reserving the soaking liquid. Add to the bowl of a Kitchen Aid type mixer fitted with the dough hook the pre-ferment, the flour, liquid from the soaked fruits, sugar, eggs, salt and osmo-tolerant yeast.  Mix the dough for 5 minutes, then add the pieces of butter, one by one. Once all the butter is added, continue kneading in the machine for 5 more minutes.

Add the soaked fruits, the candied orange peel and the fresh orange zest and mix gently, adding additional flour as necessary to get it to a proper consistency, so that it is slightly sticky but can be handled by hand.

Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for two to three hours. If using osmo-tolerant yeast, it might be fully risen by 2 hours.

Split the dough into the necessary number of pieces you need for the loaves you want to make. I used 3/4 of the dough to make a big panettone in the traditional pan (6 in diameter, 6 in high). The rest of the dough I baked in a small springform pan. Shape the dough, place them into the molds, cover lightly and let them rise for two to three hours again. If using osmo-tolerant yeast, they could be ready to bake in 90 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 F.

Bake until nicely browned and the internal temperature registers 185F. My big panettone took 55 minutes to bake, the smaller one, using about 1/4 of the dough, was ready in 25 minutes. A thermometer to check the temperature really helps. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before slicing.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: In case you are wondering, there are countless recipes for panettone out there. Using regular yeast, wild yeast, osmo-tolerant  yeast, pre-ferment, overnight fermentation in the fridge, you think about one particular condition, and someone has already tried – and formed a strong opinion about it. They all involve a rich dough, containing sugar, milk, butter, and eggs – think in the direction of brioche and you’ll be close. They must include raisins, and orange peel. Sometimes other dried fruits, sometimes almonds. They must all be baked in a tall pan, to form a nice domed structure. And if you want the real authentic flavor, skip the vanilla and go for Fiori di Sicilia. That gives it the real characteristic flavor we all associate with panettone. If you don’t have osmo-tolerant yeast, you can use regular instant. You should then expect longer proofing times, like those specified in the recipe. I suspect I could have used less osmo-tolerant yeast, as the dough rose really fast. Live and learn.

My second, small loaf, made with 1/4 of the dough.

I read a ton of recipes before settling on my version, that joins The Fresh Loaf with some technical advice from America’s Test Kitchen.  I enjoyed baking this bread so much and it was so well-received by our colleagues, that I intend to make it again before 2018 says goodbye. Moist, flavorful, sweet but with a sour tang, the smell that lingered in the kitchen after baking was something! Can you tell how happy I am about this bake? I was on top of the world…

I took the panettone all sliced up to the department two days after baking. It was a bit past its prime, but still very tasty. Compliments galore, and by 10am everything was gone. Not even a crumb left. What more could I ask?

Notes to self: if repeating this exact recipe, I will cut the amounts by half. It will make the right amount for the panettone pan I have, which is 6 inches in diameter, 6 inches high.

Two tempting options to try: this version from Paul Hollywood, and this version from my virtual sister Susan. Decisions, decisions…

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March, 2003. While living in Paris we took a few days break in Lisbon where we met a couple of great friends from the US who were vacationing in Europe (Sally waves hello to M & V). It was also a trip to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary. Portugal, the home country of my maternal grandparents, was a place I had always wanted to visit. The country is charming, people absolutely adorable, and the food? The food does not get the respect and admiration it deserves, in my opinion. As it is mandatory for anyone visiting Lisbon, we stopped by the birth place of Pastéis de Belém, also known as Pastéis de Nata. You can read all about it here.

But first, would you like to say it as a native?  let’s try it…

When  you bite into your first one, the skies open, angels start singing, and you wonder how would you ever leave Portugal and that indescribable pleasure behind. Yes, they are that wonderful. For almost 15 years I’ve been dreaming of making them at home, even though I am fully aware they would not compare to the original ones. Then I watched an episode of the latest season of The Great British Bake Off, and pastéis de nata were requested as one technical challenge. Sally said to herself… if they can do it, perhaps I could too?

(slightly modified from  Leite’s Culinaria)

for the dough:
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (227 grams)***  (see my notes)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (1 gram)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water (208 ml)
8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature, stirred until smooth

for the custard:
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (23 grams)
1 1/4 cups milk (297 ml), divided
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar (264 grams)
1 cinnamon stick
2/3 cup water (158 ml)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (3 ml)
6 large egg yolks, whisked

for the garnish:
confectioners’ sugar

Make the dough: In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the flour, salt, and water until a soft, pillowy dough forms that pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 30 seconds. I needed to add quite a bit more flour than the recipe called for, at least 1/4 cup more, perhaps more. 

Generously flour a work surface and pat the dough into a 6-inch square using a pastry scraper. Flour the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Roll the dough into an 18-inch square. As you work, use the scraper to lift the dough to make sure the underside isn’t sticking to your work surface.

Brush the excess flour off the top of the dough, trim any uneven edges, and, using a small offset spatula, dot and then spread the left 2/3 portion of the dough with a little less than 1/3 of the butter being careful to leave a 1 inch plain border around the edge of the dough. Neatly fold the unbuttered right 1/3 of the dough (using the pastry scraper to loosen it if it sticks) over the rest of the dough. Brush off any excess flour, then fold over the left 1/3 of the dough.

Starting from the top, pat down the dough with your hand to release any air bubbles, and then pinch the edges of the dough to seal. Brush off any excess flour. Turn the dough 90° to the left so the fold is facing you. Lift the dough and flour the work surface. Once again roll it out to an 18-inch square, then dot the left 2/3 of the dough with 1/3 of the butter and smear it over the dough. Fold the dough as directed in the previous steps.

For the last rolling, turn the dough 90° to the left and roll out the dough to an 18-by-21-inch rectangle, with the shorter side facing you. Spread the remaining butter over the entire surface of the dough. Using the spatula as an aid, lift the edge of dough closest to you and roll the dough away from you into a tight log, brushing the excess flour from the underside as you go. Trim the ends and cut the log in half. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or preferably overnight.

Make the custard: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and 1/4 cup milk until smooth. Bring the sugar, cinnamon, and water to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 220°F (100°C). Do not stir.

Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, scald the remaining 1 cup milk. Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture. Remove the cinnamon stick and then pour the sugar syrup in a thin stream into the hot milk-and-flour mixture, whisking briskly. Add the vanilla and stir for a minute until very warm but not hot. Whisk in the yolks, strain the mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside. The custard will be thin.

Assemble and bake the pastries:  Place an oven rack in the top third position and heat the oven to 500°F.  Remove a pastry log from the refrigerator and roll it back and forth on a lightly floured surface until it’s about an inch in diameter and 16 inches long. Cut it into scant 3/4-inch pieces. Place 1 piece pastry dough, cut side down, in each well of a nonstick 12-cup mini-muffin pan (2-by-5/8-inch size). Allow the dough pieces to soften several minutes until pliable.

Have a small cup of water nearby. Dip your thumbs in the water, then straight down into the middle of the dough spiral. Flatten it against the bottom of the cup to a thickness of about 1/16 inch, then smooth the dough up the sides and create a raised lip about 1/8 inch above the pan. The pastry sides should be thinner than the bottom. Fill each cup 3/4 full with the slightly warm custard. Bake the pasteis until the edges of the dough are frilled and brown, about 8 to 9 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow the pasteis to cool a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a rack and cool until just warm. Sprinkle the pasteis generously with confectioners’ sugar, then cinnamon and serve. Repeat with the remaining pastry and custard.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I will not lie to you, this is a labor of love. It is time-consuming, and the first time you make it, you’ll feel quite insecure about each step. Did I roll out the pastry thin enough? Is the butter melting too much into the dough? And the insecurities get more intense when it comes time to shape each little shell, because it’s a bit of an unusual process. After rolling the pastry as a long sausage, small bits are cut cross-wise and placed in each mini-muffin tin, like this:

Then, very gently you will push down with the finger right in the center of the cylinder, making the pastry stretch to the sides. Instructions tell you to make the base thicker than the sides. That is easy to understand but not that easy to achieve. Plus, the idea is to work as quickly as possible so the butter won’t melt with the heat of your fingers. If you do it perfectly right, after baking the base of the pastry should show a nice rolling pattern.

Not quite there yet… but I guess not too bad…

The amazing thing is that I did two batches of these Portuguese delicacies, two days in a row. Why? Because I am married to Phil. Puzzled?  Let me explain. A dialogue, that happened as we arrived home from work, went more or less like this:

“What are you going to do with all this leftover custard in the fridge?

I have no clue, maybe pour over some fruit? You can have it, by the way…

(A bit of a pause)

Why don’t you make a second batch of pastéis de nata?

(pause due to sheer shock)

Are you totally out of your mind? Do you realize what it takes to make these?

C’mon, it cannot be that bad…

(my reply was not fit to print)

Ok, ok, OK, I get it.. BUT what if I help you? We make it together, how about that?

And that’s how a second batch of Pastéis de Nata was made after work on a weeknight. He did help me, first sitting by the countertop making small conversation as I prepared the dough, and then shaping a batch of shells.  He even made a little video while I was working hard with dough and butter. I guess he got bored! 😉 Anyway, here is the mercifully short video.

Even though they turned out very delicious, there is room for improvement. I guess baking them closer to the heat source would be better, ideally you want them all to have the very dark spots I showed you in the first photo.  Interestingly enough, those had been baked in my small electric oven, where the tray was placed a lot closer to the top heating element. That’s something to keep in mind if you try them yourself.  I also made a small batch with commercial puff pastry, and must admit home-made from scratch turns out a lot better. Something about the way the custard and the shell join in a more homogeneous way. The store-bought puff pastry had a harsher texture. Still, if that’s the only option for you to bake a batch of Pastéis de Nata, go for it. It will still be amazing, I promise. I must stress again the fact that as written, the recipe from Leite’s Culinaria posed me problems. I find that the amount of flour called for has got to be wrong. Maybe it has to do with the brand he’s used, but keep that in mind. You need a dough that you can work comfortably with.

Hard to believe that my first encounter with Pastéis de Nata was almost 15 years ago!

Getting ready to leave for our anniversary dinner, in a restaurant with great seafood and live “fado”, a music that speaks straight to the human soul. 

I hope you enjoyed my adventure with this delicacy of my past. I am so glad I finally decided to go for it. Now I need to face another dream of mine, éclairs. Stay tuned!

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First Monday of the last month of the year… How on Earth did we get here so fast?

I suppose it is a good sign when I have a hard time picking my favorite post from last month. After a lot of deliberations with myself, I will go with this one:

To read the full post about it, click here….

The link below takes you to the favorite post of my virtual friends who participate of this event. If you are a blogger and would like to join us, contact Sybil at http://www.sidsseapalmcooking.com

(comments are shutdown for this post)







Another great recipe from Kalyn, who knows her way around a low-carb way of life. If you feel like taking a step back from the excesses of Thanksgiving, this is a very nice option for breakfast, brunch, or a light lunch.  I used my beloved tart pan, but  you can  make it in muffin tins, or even go for a single, larger pie type pan, increasing baking time a little bit.

(slightly modified from Kalyn’s Kitchen)

2 1/2 cups broccoli flowerets (cut into small, bite-sized pieces)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
6 T coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
8 eggs
1 cup cottage cheese
1 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp oregano
salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

 Heat oven to 375F/190C.   Spray tart pan or muffin cups with non-stick spray.
Place the broccoli pieces into a bowl, cover with cling wrap, and microwave on high for about 1-2 minutes, or until broccoli just starts to cook. Divide broccoli among the tart wells. Put a generous pinch of cheddar cheese on top of the broccoli, then add coarsely grated Parmesan on top of the cheddar.
Put the cottage cheese into a fine-mesh colander, rinse with cold water, and let drain. Break eggs into a glass measuring cup with a pour spout, and beat with a fork until egg yolks and whites are combined. Add drained cottage cheese, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Pour egg mixture over broccoli and cheese, dividing the eggs evenly among the tart wells.  Stir gently with the fork so ingredients are evenly distributed.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until eggs are firm and frittatas are starting to get slightly browned on top. Frittatas can be kept in the fridge for several days and microwaved to reheat.  Don’t microwave for more than about a minute or the eggs will get rubbery.

to print the recipe, click here


Comments: I absolutely love this type of recipe that I can  make in the weekend and then enjoy for lunch the following week. I prefer to warm them up in my little electric oven, because it gives much better texture than the microwave, but if you follow Kalyn’s advice and keep the microwave time short, it will still prevent the dreadful rubbery-egg-syndrome.
Cottage cheese was – for me – an acquired taste. When I first moved to the US, I did not like it at all.  But for one reason or another I kept trying it and started to enjoy its unique texture and mild taste. Nowadays I can even eat it straight from a spoon, as long as it is crowned with a little shower of salt and coarsely ground black pepper. A little za’atar would not hurt either.  In this preparation, it offers a perfect creamy texture to the frittata.
I love to pair these babies with some juicy tomatoes, but the time for that is unfortunately over…. Must wait for Spring, which obviously cannot come quickly enough for me (sigh).

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